Tag Archives: USA

TRAIN TRACKER, Season Two: Episode 3

(Note: For previous details about my train trip from New York to Arizona, see TRAIN TRACKER: Season One, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, and TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued.)

Episode 3: The Good, The Bad, and The Good

They say bad news should be sandwiched between slices of good news. Here, then, is today’s Train Tracker Sandwich.

The Good
After riding through the industrial northern edges of Ohio and Indiana, we arrived in Chicago. It was 9:30 a.m. The sky was overcast and the architecture looked just as bleak. The train pulled into a dungeon-like underground terminal.

left: Whiting, Indiana (between Gary, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois); top right: unidentified building near Chicago’s Union Station; bottom right: lower level, Union Station, Chicago.

But then, like a rainbow after a storm, a Starbucks appeared, and they were playing one of my favorite tunes, “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. Suddenly, as the song says, “the world’s alright with me.” I did a happy dance right there in the station.

While sipping coffee, I planned out my four-hour layover with the help of my new best friends, TripAdvisor and GPS.

First, I walked a block or so to the Willis Tower (the second tallest building in the U.S.).

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Willis Tower

Next, I hailed a cab (something I love doing because it makes me feel like I’m Elaine in Seinfeld) and visited the nearby Art Institute of Chicago.

I’d learned from Trip Advisor to buy my admission ticket in advance to avoid long lines. (Good advice. I got to skip the long line, scan a bar code, and walk right in.)

I’d also read on Trip Advisor that luggage and bags could be checked at the museum for only $1. This was also true. Goodbye duffel bag, for a while, anyway.

Unencumbered, I dashed around the museum for about an hour, lingering over some masterpieces, taking quick photos of others. I focused on the Impressionists and a special Manet exhibit that I paid $7 extra for.

I then hailed another cab for the trip back to the station (this time imagining myself as Carrie on Sex and the City). Both cabbies were friendly and very helpful. One, from Nigeria, even explained to me the layout of Chicago’s city streets.

I made it back to the train station an hour before my scheduled departure time and headed for my gate.

The Bad

The gate was crowded with confused travelers. There already were dozens of people in line, and the line wasn’t moving. Within minutes, dozens more had joined the line. At least 50 other travelers were clamoring about. Some were waiting for train number 21, others for number 421. At least three people approached me and asked if they were in the right line. I trusted my gut and told them,”Yes, but I could be wrong!”

I didn’t want to be attacked by an angry mob. They just might have pushed me down the Union Station staircase, as in that scene in The Untouchables.

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After about 20 minutes, we were herded into a seating area where we waited for the boarding call. We waited. And waited. An hour later, we were still waiting when I decided to check my email. I had a new one from Amtrak: “Your train has been delayed, but don’t worry, we’ve already set up alternate transportation for some or all of your route.”

A passenger began loudly complaining; she’d heard the train wasn’t going any farther than Little Rock because of bad weather. We were assured by a harried Amtrak employee that we would all get to our final destinations. Finally, we were given the go-ahead to board our train, which turned out to be both number 21 and 421.

Once we’d started moving, though, there was an announcement: Flooding from Tropical Storm Barry had damaged certain portions of the track. We would all have to get off the train in Little Rock, Arkansas at 3 a.m. Those who were traveling beyond Little Rock would then take a FIVE HOUR bus ride to San Antonio, where they’d board another train for the rest of the journey.

Our train continued on, but not for long. Soon it was stalled for TWO HOURS, due to a signal problem with a freight train up ahead.

The Good

When we arrived in Little Rock, we learned that the flooded track had been repaired. No bus would be needed after all!

And even though we are now three or four hours behind schedule, there’s more good news to report. The new train (the Texas Eagle that I boarded in Chicago) is nicer than the Lake Shore Limited (the one I rode in New York State). The window curtain works, for one thing, and the bathrooms are cleaner. (There are FIVE bathrooms per car!) There’s a real dining car, too, with actual food, and an observation car with big windows.

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By the way, a talented musician friend, Don Armstrong, wrote a beautiful song about the Texas Eagle train. Of all the songs I’ve heard him perform, I think it’s my favorite. You can hear him perform it here or here.

Amazingly, I’ve still got two seats all to myself. It’s been a smooth, quiet ride with plenty of leg room. The only downer is that there’s no WiFi.

The most interesting thing about this trip is the people. Take, for example, my dinner partners (assigned by the servers): a 50-year old teacher who claimed to own over $1 million in Chicago condos, his four-year-old son who’s already been on four train trips, and a 70-something active retiree who travels everywhere by train.

Or consider this young man. His face, neck, arms, and hands (and perhaps more) were covered in mint green tattoos to match his hair. When someone asked him where he’d gotten his tattoos, he replied, “I did them myself.”

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And then there’s the talkative guy sitting directly behind me. His phone conversations are hilarious. He’s already told one of his lady friends that he plans on visiting her “on Hollywood Boulevard” as soon as he gets his restaurant up and running. This restaurant, he claims, is the best place for ribs in Detroit. Actually, he goes on, it’s the best rib joint in the country. When he comes to see her, if she doesn’t happen to be home, he’ll camp out on her balcony — in his sleeping bag. When she apparently protests, he assures her it’s no problem because he is “the original cat burglar.”

Another woman just called him. He didn’t remember who she was at first, but now he’s telling her about his barbecue sauce.

To quote Dave Barry, “I can’t make this stuff up.”

TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued

Episode 2: Eight Is Enough (but Four Isn’t Even Close)

It’s 4:28 a.m., and I’m wide awake after somehow managing to get 4 hours of sleep. Now all I need is a cup of coffee and 4 more hours of sleep, and I’ll be able to smile again.

I had tried to listen to a podcast before “bed,” but it wasn’t working. If you think your Wi-fi at home is slow, you should try it on a train. After several failed attempts at connecting to the internet world, I called it a night.

Then I gathered my toothbrush, toothpaste, and sweat pants, mustered up every ounce of courage that I had, and paid a visit to the rest room. Thankfully, nobody had urinated on the floor (see yesterday’s post), but it wasn’t a bed of roses, either. I changed into my sweats, brushed my teeth, and was out of there and back in my seat before you could say “aromatherapy.”

I put on my neck pillow (which happens to be red, hence I’m calling it my redneck pillow) and invented various new sleeping positions: The Foot Rest, The Fold, The Sitting Squat, and The Lower Back Torture. Oddly enough, I was not able to fall asleep in any of these positions. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that none of them even vaguely resembled my favorite at home, The Dead Man Float with Pillows.

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Hey, does that person have 4 feet?       Photo credit: Pixabay

I then moved my duffel bag and purse off the seat next to me and onto the floor and attempted to lie across both seats, which together span approximately 4 feet. This was a challenge, since I am a full-grown human.

First, I curled up on my left side. My head was pressed against the arm rest and my feet were sticking out a little into the aisle, so I switched to my right side. Now my feet were on the arm rest and my head was out in the aisle. Not any better, but at least I couldn’t be accused of tripping anyone as they stumbled across my head.

I curled myself tightly into The Turtle (or maybe it’s the Pill Bug). My head was now protected by the arm rest, which was digging into my scalp. I adjusted my redneck pillow to relieve the pressure. There. As snug as a bug on a train.* I hoped I wouldn’t uncurl myself in my sleep.

*Ew.

Soon, I felt myself slipping into an altered state of consciousness while listening to the droning voice of the man standing in the aisle one row behind me. He was speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. (He and about six other people in my train car are Amish.) I think it helped that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. It was like a lullaby.

It’s now 5:30 a.m. I have a slight coffee headache, a sore neck, and tired eyes. My earrings (which I forgot to remove last night) are being squished against my ears by my redneck pillow, which I am still wearing tightly around my neck even though I’m sitting up now. I think I’ll sign off and try getting some more shuteye. At least I’ll be in Chicago in a couple of hours. Hey, maybe I’ll miss my connecting train and have to fly home! Stay tuned.

 

Colorado Rocks

Colorado always seemed like a distant idea to me: a concept, as opposed to a real place I’d ever get to visit. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve traveled all across the country and back. I’ve been to each of Colorado’s neighboring states. I’ve also been to Hawaii. Hell, I even hitchhiked across Canada (back in the 70s when it was a little safer and I didn’t know any better). But until last month, I’d never set foot in Colorado.

Well, I’ve just returned from a five-week-long road trip with my husband — more posts about that to follow — and I can finally say, “I’ve been to Colorado.” By the way, Colorado is AWESOME. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there.

As I crossed the state line from New Mexico into Colorado, though, it was pouring rain, and the sky was a dull, drab gray. An even duller, drabber highway sign announced, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” It looked something like this:

Welcome to Colorado BW

(Photo credit: marchinileo0 via Pixabay)

“Colorful?” I asked myself. “What’s so colorful about Colorado?”

Well, a little farther down the road, we came to Trinidad, Colorado, and the sun started to come out.

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I could see the potential and hoped for more color as we traveled on.

That night, we stayed in Colorado Springs, also known as “Olympic City USA.” That’s because the headquarters for the US Olympic Committee, the US Olympic Training Center, and the US Anti-Doping Agency are all located there.

Speaking of drugs, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use and sale. But I didn’t need to visit one of their green stores to appreciate the place. You can get high just walking around admiring the scenery.  John Denver knew a good thing when he saw it.

We had a little spare time the next morning before continuing on our journey, so I googled “Top 10 Things to Do in Colorado Springs.” Garden of the Gods popped up as #1, so that’s where we went. Here are some photos I took while there:

Stay tuned for more photos of our trip in my next post.